Uterine Fibroids - Here Are the Basics
Author: Jorge Chavez
O.K. So what are they?
Uterine Fibroids (leiomyomas) are common noncancerous (benign) tumors that occur within the muscle walls of the uterus (womb). Uterind fibroids can be the size of a pinhead and show no signs or symptoms that they are there, or they can be very painful and grow to a 10 inch diameter.
There are four types of uterine fibroids:
Subserosal Fibroids, develop under the outside uterine covering. Intramural Fibroids, develop within the uterine wall. Submucosal Fibroids, develop under the uterus lining. Pedunculated Fibroids, develop on a "stalk" or stem-like structure attached to the inside or the outside of the uterus.
Fibroids may grow as a single nodule or in clusters. They may range in size from 1 mm to more than 20 cm (8 inches) in diameter. Fibroids in the uterus are a common cause of heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pain and pressure in women. During pregnancy, fibroids can greatly increase in size.
What are the Symptoms?
Some women with uterine fibroids experience no symptoms at all. Symptoms may include excessive and prolonged menstrual bleeding, pain, abdominal mass effect, frequent urination or urgency or constipation and many others.
When symptoms appear, they can vary greatly, depending on the size and exact location of the fibroid tumors. Women sometimes underestimate the impact of their symptoms because they have become accustomed to the excessive bleeding, pain and the pressure that fibroids can cause. Also, for some reason African-American women develop symptoms faster and with greater severity than other women.
What does one do about them?
Uterine fibroids often do not require treatment, but when they are problematic, they may be treated surgically, non-surgically, with medication or with alternative treatments. The very heavy menstrual bleeding, clotting and pelvic pain, that fibroids sometimes cause leads many women to seek treatment.
What about treatment?
There are several different types of treatments:
Hormonal: Uterine fibroid tumors require estrogen and progesterone to grow, and without these hormones, fibroid tumors usually shrink in size. Hormonal treatments (such as birth control pills) may help control excessive menstrual bleeding caused by fibroids in some patients.
Non-surgical: Uterine Fibroid Embolization, UFE - Known medically as uterine artery embolization, approaches the treatment of fibroids by blocking the arteries that supply blood to them causing them to shrink or disappear. Uterine fibroid embolization is a more permanent solution than hormone therapy. When hormonal treatment is stopped the fibroid tumors usually grow back. UFE (Uterine Fibroid Embolization) isn't considered to be surgery, but it is generally done at a hospital or specialized clinic. This uterine fibroids treatment procedure usually takes between 1 and 3 hours, depending on how long it takes to position the catheter and how easily the catheter can be positioned in the arteries to the uterus.
Although uterine artery embolization has been in use for two decades to treat bleeding after childbirth, it wasn't until early 1997 that the technique was introduced as a potential treatment for uterine fibroids.
Follow-up studies have shown that nearly 90 percent of women who have their fibroids treated by uterine fibroid embolization experience either significant or complete resolution of their fibroid-related symptoms.
Surgical: Surgery for uterine fibroids involves either removing the fibroids (myomectomy) or the entire womb (hysterectomy). Surgery has risks, including bleeding and infection. About a third of the more than 500,000 hysterectomies done in the U.S. each year are done because of fibroids. Most of the women having these operations are said to be unaware of the non-surgical options.
Alternative treatment: Alternative treatments for uterine fibroid tumors also abound. Naturopaths, homeopaths, acupuncturists, chiropractors, and other alternative health care providers have treatments to offer as well. While some of these are not as well supported by scientific studies that prove effectiveness, the treatments are usually safer and provide a less invasive alternative than surgery.
Remember that some medical treatments for uterine fibroid tumors can affect your fertility. For this and other reasons it is very important to seriously investigate and consider alternative treatments for uterine fibroids.
Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.